Staff Editorial: University-sponsored file sharing

The Recording Industry Association of America has threatened lawsuits against students and universities in an attempt to curb the massive influx of copyright infringement occurring over peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as KaZaA. As a result, many colleges face a choice – eliminate file-sharing capacity over the university network entirely and risk student wrath or chance costly litigation by doing nothing. Many colleges, including GW, monitor network use and do not force their students to stop sharing unless it gets out of hand. But now some schools are finding new ways to respond to this dilemma.

GW tracks students using exorbitant bandwidth, issues warnings and can suspend file-sharing privileges for high users, which works at GW with a relatively small student population. Pennsylvania State University, with its student population hovering around 83,000 (including graduate students), has come up with a unique solution to the problem in providing its students with a free and legal method to download music. Pressure from the RIAA forced Penn State to shut down downloading capability from services such as KaZaA last May.

Penn State signed an agreement last week with Napster, which is no longer the free-for-all it used to be. The new version allows subscribers to listen to an unlimited number of songs off of a licensed catalog of half a million songs for $9.95 per month. Penn State students, receiving the service for free, will be able to download music on up to three personal computers, although burning songs on a CD costs 99 cents per tune.

Penn State officials had a creative idea that might very well spread to other campuses across the country. But the real issue is still the recording industry’s inability to catch up with the times – digital music is the future, and buying CDs off the rack will become a thing of the past.

While The New York Times claims some students see the Napster arrangement at Penn State as the end to Prohibition with drinks on the house, we see it as a small step in the right direction, but it does not signal the demise of illegal file sharing. This will not happen until the recording industry gives up its blind dependence on traditional CD sales and comes up with new ways to make money off the Internet. Nonetheless, Penn State’s solution is something that other schools should look into, to try and curb the illegal copyright infringement that has become a rite of passage for university students. It has created a generation that consistently downplays the importance of intellectual property laws.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.